The Big Three's 'low cost' data plans are a bad joke

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Close up of smartphone in hand. Photo:

Back in March, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) closed the doors on Wi-Fi based Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), like Sugar Mobile, in a blow for consumers who have long been burdened with prohibitive wireless bills.

Wi-Fi based MVNOs could have provided relief to mobile consumers by creating real competition for the Big Three -- Bell, Telus and Rogers. But instead of taking the obvious action, the CRTC proposed yet another lengthy consultation period and requested that the incumbents roll out (poorly defined) low-cost data plans as a means of addressing wireless affordability.

The Big Three's proposed sweet deal: half a gigabyte of data for $30 per month, which is higher than existing offerings per gigabyte, and doesn't even include talk or text. Insulting, right?

If you don't know this already -- people in Canada pay some of the highest cell phone bills in the world. When compared to other countries' data allowances, Canada sits in an embarrassing position, as you can see on the graph below (far left):


But why does Canada not have unlimited data plans? Big Telecom claims they already have plans with "generous" data amounts and that they need this usage-based approach in order to cover the costs of expanding their networks and keep up with a rising data usage.

Nevertheless, back in December, the Big Three surprised us with a genuine improvement; a deal of 10GB for $60. The catch -- it was only available for a weekend, but it came to show that the Big Three are able to offer mobile consumers a much better offer. So why not make it permanent?

The CRTC's recent decision is a setback for the Canadian wireless market, which is already suffering from lack of competition, and we simply can't afford to wait through yet another review "within the 2020 timeframe" (and without a guarantee).

People in Canada are increasingly struggling to pay their high cell phone bills, if they can even afford a cell phone at all. Faced with a rising appetite for data, we can't afford to continue to fall behind and let the digital divide widen in an era where connectivity is essential to everyday activities.

This is why OpenMedia is now turning its attention to Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains -- who has the authority to bring more choice to our cell phone market, and lower costs, by overruling the CRTC and mandating access for MVNOs. This avenue is almost guaranteed to drive our mobile prices down by bringing in new players to the market and forcing the Big Three out of complacency, as opposed to the CRTC's current piecemeal approach.

Simply put, the Big Three's proposed low data plans are a slap in the face. If the CRTC thinks that this is the solution to wireless affordability that Canada is hungry for, it has clearly not been listening to the people that it is supposed to serve.

Canadians are demanding affordable data at:

Marie Aspiazu is a Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.


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